Society / Featured Parties

$1.2 Million Houston Night Serves as a How To For Virtual Fundraisers — Blowing the Online Roof Off

JDRF's Ingenuity Gets it Done

BY // 07.08.20

When JDRF executive director Rick Byrd was asked back in late March if he knew how to put on a virtual gala, his response was no but he was going to learn. And learn he did. The nonprofit’s virtual evening was such a success with net proceeds of $1.2 million that Byrd’s “expertise” is now being sought by other nonprofits.

Only six weeks prior to the May 8 gala, which was expected to fill a hotel ballroom with as many as 1,000 paying guests, the decision was made, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, to change gears.

“We serve clients with Type 1 diabetes who are at greater risk of complications from the virus,” Byrd said. “We knew it wasn’t the safest or most prudent thing to do.”

The greater threat to diabetes patients underscored the need for the virtual evening’s success and perhaps moved donors to loosen their purse strings even more than they ordinarily would have. Consider that the live, online Fund the Cure appeal (in place of ballroom Paddles Up) raised a remarkable $900,000.

The basic key to the annual Promise Ball’s success, Byrd says, was “months and prior years of donor stewardship and cultivation.”

Table buyers and sponsors were encouraged to keep their giving at the previously planned level and were encouraged to host Zoom happy hours in advance of the gala in order to boost enthusiasm and participation. One JDRF supporter hosted a happy hour with invitations sent to 60 friends. Byrd reports that each joined the party and contributed to the gala.

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The virtual gala program was fast paced with Type 1 diabetes patient Drew Dougherty of Texans TV reprising his previous role as the evening’s emcee. He joined from his Houston home as did Byrd, who quipped that they were dressed in black tie above the waist and Bermuda shorts below.

Between testimonials, the tribute to the honorees and words from key players, the program was peppered with happenings to maintain viewer interest. The live auction which typically includes 10 items had only three. The silent auction closed during the program. Viewers were encouraged to post photos from their gala parties on the JDRF Social Wall via Facebook and Instagram.

The program included participation from Houston Texans receiver DeAndre Carter, who has Type 1 diabetes, and WWE star Lacey Evans, who suffered from gestational diabetes. Honorees Peggy and Robert Kruckemeyer shared their story as well. The theme of the evening, The Power of Us, was displayed through an inspiring video featuring T1D heroes.

LD Systems produced the far flung event from their studios and aired it on YouTube.

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